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Staton Mill Road residents still struggling with train noise

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CSX leaves idling train engines on a track near a group of homes on Staton MIll Road. (Contributed photo)

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

People living near the CSX switching yard outside Greenville continue to struggle with noise problems created by engines parked near their homes and left running.

Homeowners near the Staton Mill Road switching yard say the problems have grown worse in the past year because train crews now work past midnight on many occasions and repeatedly sound engine whistles when traveling through the crossing. They also are still leaving the engines idling.

“For years they only had the one yard engine and it would go out in the day, do its work and park. Now they are running two crews,” said Charlie Credle, whose home is located just before Staton Mill Road crosses the railroad.

“At 9 o’clock at night they fire up that yard engine again and it’s running around here at 10, 11, 12, 1 o’clock in the morning, going back and forth over the crossing, shuttling cars back and forth, blowing the whistle many, many times per crossing. That’s been going on the last month or so. That’s extremely disturbing,” he said. “That’s not the promise they made us. You get the feeling out here they are trying to screw us every way they can.”

The residents’ frustration is shared by Pitt County government officials.

For more than a year, Pitt County Attorney Janis Gallagher has talked with multiple CSX executives. She has sought assistance from the Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency charged with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing mergers. A Pitt County commissioner also asked Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., to help.

The problems persist.

Gallagher wrote CSX general counsel and corporate secretary Ellen M. Fitzsimmons on July 7 asking her to intervene.

“Essentially, this issue boils down to someone within CSX requiring responsible behavior at the Pitt County, N.C. office and switching yard,” Gallagher wrote.

Gallagher said Pitt County staff has discussed strategies with CSX’s governmental relations staff but no one has been able to “implement lasting improvement.”

There are times when engines are shut off when parked, Gallagher said.

“That lasted for about one week before returning to prior practices,” she said in the July 7 letter.

“That almost makes the situation that much more frustrating because we know they are capable of improvements,” she said in a later interview with The Daily Reflector.

CSX moved its switching station to the area on Staton Mill Road near N.C. 903 North in 2013 to reduce traffic jams its switching operations created inside Greenville. City officials for years lobbied CSX and the N.C. Department of Transportation to move the operation. Switching stations, also called switching yards, are where freight train cars are broken down and reassembled into smaller segments for delivery to individual clients.

When the Pitt County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing in October 2011 on a rezoning request that allowed CSX to build its yard office and crew facility on Staton Mill Road, CSX’s general counsel said “a modern design will enable CSX to conduct a much more efficient operation at the new location which will have positive impacts on the area as a whole.”

The Station Mill Road location was chosen because of its distance from the city limits but proximity to a road. However, there are five houses near the railroad tracks.

“CSX staff in Pitt County has engaged in repeated, offensive activities, demonstrating a complete disregard for the health and welfare of its Pitt County neighbors,” Gallagher wrote.

CSX is doing what it can to keep the lines of communication open with the community, Rob Doolittle, vice president for media and communications, said last month.

“CSX made no commitments regarding how we would conduct operations at the new yard, and we have kept an open line of communication with county officials and neighbors,” Doolittle said. “While we understand their concerns about idling locomotives, for safety reasons trains sometimes must idle to maintain brake pressure, and safety is CSX’s highest priority.”

He reiterated that the move to Staton Mill Road was because of traffic and safety concerns in Greenville and it improved traffic flow and safety in the city.

The homes of Charlie Credle and Brenda Brown are closest to the tracks and where the engines are usually parked.

Credle moved there two years before the switching yard was moved. He said he didn’t mind living near a railroad track because the train typically made two trips a day that lasted about five minutes.

An idling engine, however, produces a vibration that shakes his home and creates an unrelenting noise, he said.

Brown has lived near the tracks for 35 years. Like Credle, the trains never bothered her when they made their twice-daily trips. The idling engines are so bad that at least two or three times a month she leaves her home at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. and drives nine miles to Bethel so she can sleep at her mother’s home.

“When things are sitting on your dresser rumbling you can’t get back to sleep,” she said.

The situation has gotten worse, Brown said. The crews previously would park the running engines at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. but moved them no later than 7:30 p.m.

“Now it’s gotten to where they’ll come back here and park the train in the middle of the night,” Brown said.

Twenty days after Gallagher wrote Fitzsimmons, three CSX executives held a telephone conference with her.

“I shared the continuing concerns of the residents, and CSX indicated that they would look further into the situation to see if anything more could be done to alleviate the resident concerns,” Gallagher said. The executives are scheduled to have a follow-up call with Gallagher later this month.

On Monday night, Brown contacted the newspaper and reported an engine had parked on the track a short distance behind her home.

“I am glad they moved it out of Greenville because it would tie up traffic,” Brown said last month. “But I didn’t know this is what we were asking for when they moved it out here.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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